Introducing General Research

The Influences and Legacy of Setsumasa Kobayashi's Project


General Research is commonly known for its technical, outdoor-oriented clothing. The company's origin, however, entails more than a “techwear” focus. As the name suggests, General Research is a label dedicated to the exploration and reiteration of a wide range of styles, fabrics, and functions, drawing inspiration from an array of sources like punk, military, and outdoor performance garments.

Despite being discontinued in 2006, the defunct brand is regaining recognition as enthusiasts celebrate the choice of materials, its focus on practicality, and the messages the clothes convey.

General Research AW98 Collection Editorial for SMART Magazine/ Via Archive.pdf

General Research (GR) was founded in 1993 by the long-time shoemaker Setsumasa Kobayashi. Kobayashi had no prior experience in the fashion industry, but drew inspiration from well-known Japanese designers like Nigo and Jun Takahashi, who gained popularity during the Ura-Harajuku movement. Kobayashi established GR as his first fashion design initiative to tackle and investigate a broad variety of topics, including punk, hunting, and motocross.

Kobayashi's attitude towards clothing is collector-esque, approaching fashion design with self-interest and curiosity. It is because of this interest that his work often features re-designs of garments and features that speak to him, always with an emphasis on practicality and functionality.

Setsumasa Kobayashi cutting trees for his cabin/ Via Haven

Each garment produced under the GR label is designed to serve a particular function. Kobayashi often field-tested the garments himself to ensure that they were functional in the setting he envisioned. This unique approach resulted in further innovation of everyday items like work jackets, fishing jackets, cargo pants, and more. It also led to the incorporation of features like neoprene cuffs and collars for warmth, a “wrapping” hoodie for wind protection, and belt buckles as a closure mechanism on a jacket. The concept of functionality sometimes took extreme forms, as it did with 1998 “Parasite” garments, which feature an absurd number of pockets in jackets, pants, and shirts.  

GR’s choice of fabrics and materials further distinguish their products. Kobayashi prioritized high-quality materials in GR garments, as he wanted them to be worn and abused. He utilized technical fabrics and traditional materials alike, never without a specific function. While at times the use of these materials was unusual, it was always deliberate and tailored to perform. Some examples of this unusual use of materials include suede backpacks, leather work jackets, and even leather short-sleeve button-up shirts.

Leather work jacket / via constant_practice
Leather short sleeve shirt with "parasite" pockets / via Silver-league
Leather "fishing" shorts

Kobayashi’s work was also politically motivated. He cites Anarchist political theory and Henry Thoreau’s “Civil Disobedience” as foundational influences. These influences are apparent in many GR collections, most notably in the form of quotes drawn from these ideologies. Examples include the quote “No Guns no Bombs Armed with Knowledge” featured in many garments in the FW04 collection “Welcome to Kanada,” or the quotes hinting at rebellion in the FW03 collection “The Secret Life of Labors.”

Arabic parka with face cover

These ideas also influenced the creation of particular garment features, such as face covers to avoid identification or the many pockets to confound police search. Additionally, Kobayashi takes inspiration from other designers that portray rebellious messages, some of the most influential being Malcolm McLaren and Vivienne Westwood. Their work at Sex and Worlds End is often referenced by Kobayashi, and many of the iconic designs from these designers are re-imagined in GR’s world, like the gauze shirts and the famous “Anarchy Shirt”.

Anarchy Sweatshirt inspired by the Anarchy Shirt 
Punk-inspired muslin shirt
Punk inpired mohair sweater

GR came to an end in 2006, but it lives on in the form of different labels, individual “research lines” as Kobayashi had envisioned since the creation of the brand. Following the end of GR, Kobayashi created several lines focused on the research of specific subject matter, and the main label switched to simply “…Research,” deliberately leaving the title open for inspiration.

Each collection produced under “…Research” takes a different name, each with a different inspiration, such as Prisoner Suit Research (2006), Riding Equipment Research (2006), and Newspaper Boy Gear Research (2007). Along with these releases, “…Research” also has two permanent collections, “Mountain Research,” which focuses on outdoor clothing, and “Naval Research,” which focuses on Navy uniform designs.

Despite the dilution into many brands, GR’s legacy persists, mostly through Mountain Research, a brand dedicated to exploring outdoor and practical clothing while conveying the same anarchist and rebellious ideologies.